PARIS -- Thousands of police officers marched through the streets of Paris on Wednesday to protest low wages, long hours and increasing suicides in their ranks.
The so-called "anger march" was the first mass mobilization by French police officers since 2001. Police unions cited inadequate equipment and repeated exposure to violence during months of weekly yellow vest movement protests as other concerns that spurred the protest.
Marchers traded their police uniforms for union flags and whistles, and some wore name badges simply reading “angry.”
Police forces across France are coping with officer suicides, David Michaux, a trade union representative for riot police units. In Paris, some of the protesting police lay on the ground surrounded by 51 black cardboard coffins, one for each French police officer to tie by suicide since the beginning of the year.
Officers and parliamentary investigators have blamed a lethal combination of the job’s intensity, long hours with low pay, and inadequate support services. The situation has worsened in the wake of the 2015 Paris terror attacks, officers say.
The suicide rate among police officers is 36% higher than for the general French population, the French Senate reported last year.
Yann Bastiere, a Montpellier police officer who went to Paris to attend the march, said he saw the problem up close after the suicide in April of a police captain in the southern city.
“There are a lot of suicides, which shows that there is a big, big problem,” Bastiere said, adding “it’s too much.”
Bastiere said officers deserve more respect from their police chiefs, higher salaries, and wider public acceptance after an outcry over the use of force to quell the yellow vest protests between November and the summer.
“We must find our place in society again,” he said.
The police unions also raised worries about a government pension plan would reduce professional benefits like pension bonuses specific to police officers.